Photos: Inside India's culinary museum with a rich taste

Manipal - Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna and chef Thirugnanasambantham are the brains behind this novel initiative set up at Manipal

By Maryam Aftab Kola

Published: Tue 14 Sep 2021, 8:39 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Sep 2021, 9:54 AM

India’s rich culinary traditions have been on the decline. Perhaps, our ever-changing lifestyle and the popularity of ready-to-eat packaged meals are responsible for the discernible trend in the change in our cooking culture.

For instance, pressure cookers have replaced iron vessels and brass pots, grinding stone have made way for electric grinders, iron vessels have been substituted by stainless steel pots and wooden churners have been supplanted by electric beaters. These appliances have been modified to suit our contemporary lifestyle.

Now, in an effort to keep our heritage alive a culinary arts museum has been set up at Manipal, Karnataka.

The museum seeks to serve as a tool to educate millennials about the country’s rich culinary tradition.

The museum structurally depicts a cooking pot that resembles those that were excavated at Harappa, one of the seats of the Indus Valley civilisation that had flourished in the north-western region of the Indian sub-continent between 2600 and 1900 Before Common Era (BCE) and was spread over 25,000 square kilometres.

The Museum of Culinary Arts

The Museum of Culinary Arts celebrates the glory of India’s cooking heritage and cultural traditions.

It was established by the Manipal Academy of Higher Education’s Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Management (WGSHA) in 2018 and was featured in the Limca Book of Records last year as India’s First Living Culinary Arts Museum.

Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna, an alumnus of WGSHA, and chef Thirugnanasambantham, principal, WGSHA, are the brains behind the novel initiative.

Khanna has donated thousands of equipment and tools to the museum. The exhibits range from the everyday tools used for cooking to the rare, intricately carved and designed kitchen accessories for festive occasions.

At the entrance of the tastefully decorated museum, visitors are greeted with giant copper and brass pots, and huge platters.

The galleries, which are located upstairs, showcase a wide array of drinking and cooking vessels made of brass with nickel plating, which is considered to have relatively low melting point. And a few of them have stunning engravings. There are also iconic tiffin carriers that have three to four compartments and are made of brass.

Carved teapots that have intricate calligraphy and floral designs are on display coupled with oil containers and utensils made of bamboo that trace its origin to northeastern India.

The museum was built to preserve rare utensils. Chef Vasanthan Sigamany, coordinator of the Department of Culinary Arts, explained the germinal thought behind the museum.

“It was set up to preserve our traditional utensils and showcase them for millennials. The chefs in this day and age can also learn about the art of cooking in the bygone era,” he said.

Diverse artistic tools

The museum boasts of over 2,000 artistic tools from diverse cultures and regions such as Kodagu, Mysuru, Hampi, Kashmir, Chettinad, Rajasthan, Kolkata, Goa, and the northeastern states.

Earthen pots, service bowls, ubiquitous storage jars used to store pickles are a pointer to the festive occasion. Measuring vessels, churners of varying sizes, exquisitely etched jugs and glasses that were part of the family kitchen are also on display.

Colourful wooden exhibits and brass rolling pins of varying sizes and weight are on show as well. Stirrers and ladles capture their timelessness. There are graters with a spiky ring commonly used to scrape the fleshy part of the coconut, spoons and wide platters.

An exquisitely designed copper box, which used to contain betel leaf along with areca nut and other condiments; big wooden churners that have grooves on their arms and are used for the making of butter and buttermilk; multi-functional mallets and mashers occupy pride of place in the museum.

The Seder Plate and a 32-piece brass picnic set that includes pots, plates, rolling pin, ladle, stirrer, tong and bowls are the piece de resistance.

Vasanthan said West Asian utensils and a big brass display plate are also in the museum’s possession.

Khanna has managed to get hold of an oil extractor that is around 600 years old and belongs to the western Indian desert state of Rajasthan.

The museum has a few pounders and grinders, which were used to grind spices and batters that have now been replaced by food processors. There are boxes made of wood, which have separate compartments to store different types of spices.

There are stoves made of iron and brass that helped in balancing a cooking utensil over an open wood fire; sieves made out of palm leaves, bamboo and wire mesh; pots with fine etchings, a colourful ice cream maker which has incorporated wood and iron in its structure; strainers that have assorted motifs such as vertical lines, floral, tiny circles, and diamond-shaped cuts.

A treasure trove of information

Khanna has released a catalogue during the inauguration of the museum, titled Patra — Heritage of the Indian Kitchen, which is rich in information about the utensils on show.

The museum is a blast from the past. It celebrates the journey of India’s rich culinary traditions and social mores.

The museum is open from Monday to Saturday (9am to 1pm & 2pm to 5pm) and is closed on the third Saturday of every month.

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